Friday, October 12, 2012

Stone Cold Debut: "Seizure" (1974)

Oliver Stone also co-wrote and co-edited his first directorial effort, a horror film with enough panache for a slight recommendation.

Horror writer Edmund (Jonathan Frid), wife Nicole (Christina Pickles), and son Jason (Timothy Ousey) are hosting a weekend getaway for some friends at their isolated country house. Among those in attendance is intellectual Serge (Roger De Koven), his loopy wife Eunice (Anne Meacham), millionaire Charles (Joe Sirola), his trophy wife Mikki (Mary Woronov), her illicit lover Mark (Troy Donahue), and a couple of others.

Edmund has been suffering from nightmares lately. They involve a home invasion by a trio of freaks who have escaped from a nearby insane asylum. Edmund is preoccupied with his dreams as the guests settle in for some fun and relaxation, until the local radio station informs its listeners of a trio of freaks who have escaped from a nearby insane asylum.

The trio find Edmund's home and terrorize the occupants in a Manson family-like fashion. As the guests begin to die, escape is impossible, and Stone gives the viewers a couple of scares along with a couple of unintended giggles.

Looking back on his career, I see Oliver Stone's films as a mixed bag. My favorite film of his is "Platoon," and for everything right about that film, there is hysterical fodder like "The Hand" and "Nixon." We'll put "Seizure" squarely in the middle of the polar opposites.

"Seizure" is nicely cast. Most of the faces are familiar, and they gamely work their way through the sometimes startling, sometimes silly, script. The invading trio play their victims off of each other, and the assorted gruesome outcomes are more gritty and realistic than anything you will see in a "Saw" series film. The trio of villains deserve special attention. The Queen (Martine Beswick) is the ringleader of the three. Beautiful Beswick is very good. Spider (Herve Villechaize) is a murderous dwarf no one should dismiss because of his size. Finally, Jackal (Henry Baker) is a looming, scarred mute; a silent leather clad executioner with a large axe. Stone smartly keeps the invaders rarely glimpsed until the suspense is heightened to its fullest extent.

Unfortunately, "Seizure" is a product of its time, and a victim of its first-time director's inexperience. The number of house guests could have been trimmed by two or three without changing the gist of the story. The musical score is a mess of percussion, but then the most effective scenes come bathed in silence. Finally, Stone breaks out the always reliable and never good fish eye lens, a technique I am not sure has ever worked well on film. The philosophical conversations about good and evil are equally naive and pretentious.

I know "Seizure" has been released many times by many video companies, usually indicating copyright problems. The DVD version I saw was awful- no extras, lots of scratches on the picture, and a grainy VHS look. Someone needs to clean and restore this contribution to modern film history soon.

It is easy to dismiss "Seizure" as a curio, but I found enough to recommend it. It was interesting to watch a non-paranoid film from Stone, knowing he's probably not capable of doing something like this again. (* * *) out of five stars.